6131 Records is home to many artists that the Modern Vinyl staffers enjoy and have featured on the site, including Julien Baker, The Winter Passing and Shadow Age. Their discography also includes Touché Amoré, Rotting Out, Joyce Manor and much more.
In our latest edition of In Support of the Art, we chatted with Sean Rhorer, the label’s manager, at the Best Cafe located in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Not only is Richmond, Virginia home to the VMFA, but it’s also where 6131 has centralized its operations. Rhorer, originally from Florida, is a transplant to Richmond, who loves the city and the unique slice of culture it brings to the 95 Corridor. He’s also part of the Brixton Agency, where he works with artist management.
Modern Vinyl: To start out, what are some of your earliest memories about getting involved in the music industry?
Sean Rhorer: I did a zine in high school. I started doing that when I was about 16 years old. Through that, I was eager and excited about stuff, so I reached out to a lot of labels. I ended up getting on a lot of promo lists. This was in the mid-to-late ‘90s, so a lot of CDs were getting mailed out. By the end of high school, I was getting a lot of CDs each week mailed to me. Just promos, all the time. I got exposed to a lot of music that way, but I also met a lot of people that way. As I continued to do that in college, I transitioned it from a print zine where I would Xerox copies, to doing an online zine. I called it an “online zine” before the term “blog” even existed. I did some interesting stuff at that time. I remember I had a photo essay from Chris Strong, who does a lot stuff for American Football.
What ended up happening was that I became friendly with some labels. They approached me about being involved on more of a professional sort of level, and they convinced me to become a publicist without any training, experience…other than being the recipient of all of it, and that’s how that all started.
People always ask me, “Oh, how did you get into doing this?” or “How did you start working in music?” and really it was just that I was a fan and I loved music more than anything else in my life. It just sort of found me. It was inescapable. It’s funny because I’m one of those people who can remember who recorded this, or played on this record, or whatever, but if you asked me about a conversation I had yesterday about something other than, or not related to, music, I don’t remember any of it. My brain just works like that. I think I’m just made to be involved in music. Fortunately for me, I’ve been able to make a career out of that. I think if I hadn’t found a career in it, I probably would be just terrible at whatever I do, constantly having my brain somewhere else.
MV: Since we talk a lot about records here at Modern Vinyl, we’re going to talk about your collection a little bit. How did your interest in vinyl first get piqued?
SR: When I was probably around 15 years old, I was living in Cape Coral, Florida. There was a coffee shop/comic book store/record store called Java Town in Fort Myers. I would go there for shows. The first punk band I ever saw was there. The first hardcore band I ever saw was there. I saw a ton of ska bands there. It was just really eye-opening for me as far as getting exposed to this community of music. I remember that they had 7”s there. The first 7” that I ever bought was The Pietasters’ Soul Sammich. I still have it! That’s sort of where it started.
It just was a time when there wasn’t a lot of major label stuff getting pressed on vinyl. It was the ‘90s, so that stuff doesn’t really exist. The vinyl thing really was so niche, and so specific to underground music, that it was a way…that if you saw it on vinyl, it was a way to distinguish that it was something that was a little harder to find; a little more interesting to my tastes at the time. I was a pretty avid CD collector as well, hilariously. I actually sold a lot of my collection back when it was still possible to sell CDs.
I was always really into vinyl too. I have a lot of those records that I bought when I was in high school. I remember bringing that 7” home, and it was the only 7” I had [at the time]; listening to it and being like “I need to get more!” I bought a lot of punk and ska records. It just grew from that.
MV: It’s interesting to hear you say that, because when I’ve done this sort of interview, specifically with that question, I’ve heard a lot of folks say ‘Oh! I got involved with my parents’ collection,’ or ‘My older siblings got me involved!’ It doesn’t sound like there’s a lot of family involvement with you?
SR: I remember being a kid and we would go to fast food restaurants and they’d give you the little book with a record in it. I remember getting the Gremlins ones from I think Hardee’s when I was a little kid, which dates me a little bit. I remember at one point there was a contest that McDonald’s had where you got a flexi, and if the flexi had a certain song on it, you’d win. It was the Big Mac song or something. I don’t remember. I remember having records around, and a turntable around when I was a kid. My connection to the way that I interact with vinyl and music now is pretty separate from that. We had a turntable, so I had a place to actually listen to it when I bought stuff, but it wasn’t like we sat around it. We weren’t a family that sat around and listened to records.
My wife has a similar thing that you’re talking about, where her family, still to this day, has a turntable in their living room. We were in Charlottesville the other day, and her dad bought some vinyl. We took him to Melody Supreme and he was buying records. Their family does have a lot more of that ingrained “vinyl is part of their family.” We just weren’t like that as a family. We didn’t listen to music as readily. I mean, I got exposed to a lot of music from my mom, especially being into oldies like The Beatles. She’s a massive Beatles fan. She exposed me to a lot of the oldies-type music listening to the radio in the car. Simon and Garfunkel is another big one I remember. It wasn’t tied to vinyl in a way that a lot of people remember their parents having like…The White Album and putting that on. I didn’t see that until later in life; the vinyl copies of that stuff.
There’s not like a collection of vinyl that my parents had that I listened to growing up. There were a lot of tapes. I remember a lot of tapes! (laughs) I remember they had a Chicago tape that they listened to, and I still love Chicago.
MV: Going off of all that, you mentioned that your first 7”, which essentially would be your first record too, was that Pietasters one. How did your interest as a teenager impact your collecting through the years?
SR: I think that discovering punk both saved me and ruined me. I think that, at that point, especially where I was growing up in Southwest Florida, there wasn’t a lot of us. It wasn’t like people I knew who grew up in bigger cities, or bigger scenes, like around college towns. Even people that I knew that were from Gainesville, where I would move to for a year at one point…the scene was so small; it was really inclusive. You had a lot of people that no matter what you liked, whether you were wearing a punk kid shirt or were really into ska, or you were a skinhead (Editor’s note: not all skinheads are racist. It’s important to make this distinction.) or hardcore kid, straight edge, smoked a lot of weed, whatever it was, everybody kind of hung out together because there was not enough to break off and have these really segregated subscenes.
I think it’s really great, and it informed my taste to where a lot of people would buy a Pietasters 7” and they’d become a ska person, within the ska scene and go down that path. That wasn’t the case. Just because I liked ska didn’t mean I didn’t get exposed to punk or hardcore or all these other things. I think that was informative. Even that place where I bought the record, I saw hardcore bands play there. Punk bands play there. I was telling somebody the other day that one of the first bands I saw — maybe even the first punk band I saw — was a guy I went to high school with who played drums. He ended up being a drummer in The Thermals. I think that just sort of speaks to that. Laura Jane Grace was from our community. I remember seeing her. Our bands played together a lot in high school, and I was friends with her. Her crust punk band and my ‘90s metal-y hardcore band would play shows together. It’s just an indication of that breadth of interest in the fact that we would all hang out.
When I moved to Gainesville, you saw a lot of segregation. You saw a lot of “You’re vegetarian and straight edge? Well I’m vegan and straight edge, so we can’t hang out.” It was that sort of segregation. I think that I’m really appreciative of the fact that I grew up in a scene that was so kind of integrative in that way. It really was informative. It broadened my scope of what I liked. I was listening to great punk bands and great hardcore bands. I got exposed to all of that in equal measure. It’s awesome. I think that it’s funny, because I do meet people who are like “I got into ska, and I only listened to ska for five years!” That seems terrible. I love ska, but I think being that linear in your focus is challenging. That informs the way that I interact with music now, as far as through 6131, Brixton, whatever. I have a really broad taste. I like a lot of stuff. With 6131, that’s true of myself, and of Joey [Cahill, owner of 6131]. I think we both grew up that way, where we like a lot of stuff, so that has informed us of wanting to be a really diverse label.
MV: Let’s talk your collection now! We’re gonna start this off with a newly integrated feature. If you were to randomly pull three to five records from your collection right here and now, what could you tell me about them?
SR: I was trying to think about this. I was trying to be mindful of records that I wanted to give a little bit of a shoutout to. One of the records that constantly comes up; I find it pretty frequently is a criminally underrated record. It’s from a band called Inept. Images of Betrayal is the name of the record. They were this Columbus, Ohio band. I’ve actually become friends with one of the singers, just because I was such a fan of theirs that a mutual friend connected us. His name’s Scotty, he’s awesome. It’s just this…it captures the tail end of the really ‘90s, P.C. hardcore thing, but when it was transitioning into being a little bit more open to influence. You have a lot of people at that time in bands like Reversal of Man or Neil Perry. Neil Perry’s a little later, I guess. But you have these bands that are being hyper-aggressive, really fast, influenced by grind almost and blast beats. They all had grown up with hardcore. They’d all grown up with Snapcase and Earth Crisis.
It was interesting because Inept is a perfect kind of cross-section. It’s incredibly heavy, but still really true to the ethos of that kind of early screamo thing. It’s an incredible record. It’s one of those records that’s super underrated. You can usually find it for like $10 in a used bin or cheaper. Every single time I see a copy, I buy it. And I will give it away. At different points, I had multiple copies of it. I recently found a tour press of it. I was texting Scotty and asked “What is this? I didn’t even know it existed!” I’m probably…if not the most; [I’m] one of their biggest fans. I just love it. It’s one of those records that never existed outside of vinyl. It’s never been released digitally, and it’s just this incredible record. I can’t recommend it enough.
Another thing I have, that I’ve actually never listened to, which will be apparent when I explain it, is…well, I’m friendly with Ken who runs Dirtnap Records. I went to school for design and web stuff, so I did some website work for him. As part of payment for that, he was supposed to send me a test press of a record that I really wanted that he had put out. He ended up not having an extra one. He was like, “Oh man, I didn’t have the test press you wanted, that we originally agreed upon, but I’ll send you this instead!” It’s a test lacquer for Exploding Hearts. It’s crazy. It’s one of one; incredibly rare. You can’t really play it because it’s a test lacquer, so if you play it multiple times, it starts to degrade. It’s a cool item to have, as a collector nerd, just because it is so rare, because of the story around that band. That’s a jewel of my collection.
Let me think of another one. I tried not to think too hard about this beforehand, so I could think of it on the fly. I really like test presses, and I think that’s a leftover for me from when I was a nerd about color and different colors; having every version of a record. Test presses were always really interesting to me, because they are so…it’s like intimate is the right word. There’s a very finite number of them usually. They usually are not sold publicly, so you have to get them through trading, or knowing someone affiliated in some way. For me, I really love records and bands that I’m involved in. Getting test presses is sort of like getting a memento of involvement. There’s more of a story there than just “I happened to buy the most rare color on eBay,” or “got into the pre-order early enough.” There’s just more to it. I have a Fucked Up Hidden World test press that I was given by the label. I have all of the 6131 stuff that I keep test presses of. Those are things that I really love, because it is so…you can’t just go out and buy them; they aren’t readily available.
MV: Do you have any interesting stories about how you got some of the records in your collection?
SR: I mentioned some.
MV: I guess I should say any more (laughs).
SR: I mean…one of my things is that I never really got into the whole eBay thing. I never was the type of person who would spend $200 on a record I really wanted. I was always of the mindset that the hunt is as much about what I love as any of it. I could go online now, with the way that it is now, [and] you can basically find anything and everything has a price. You can go on Discogs; you can go on eBay. Everything that I want…for the most part, I could go on there and buy. I just don’t want to do that, because it takes the mystique out of it; the excitement out of it. I think that’s just the sort of hobbyist collector in me, who wants to find things. I love digging. I love just going to a store and finding things. I mentioned finding that Inept tour press. I was just in a really small store, in Saint Petersburg, Florida recently, just digging through. I found it and was like “This is awesome!” It was just one of those things. I kinda love that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” kind of thing. You’ll see one record in a store for $100, and two weeks later you could see it in the store for a dollar. I want to be the person who gets it for a dollar. I kinda love that.
I think that those are the times when I’m most excited about something I’ve found. Feeling like I got a bargain on it. I’m trying to think of a good example of that…I don’t know. It’s all…I think my tastes are sort of out the window of what’s “cool” right now. I can find a lot of the stuff I want for pretty cheap. It’s interesting to me now about how people are just willing to plop down a huge amount of money for a record, just because they want to have it. For me, it’s like yeah, I want to have it, but the hunt is really important. Sometimes you luck out.
Sometimes you buy a record because you love it, and it becomes super valuable. Joey and I both actually had copies of a We Were Promised Jetpacks LP. They had an LP where there were only 500 of them made, and we both just happened to have copies. It’s a really expensive record, and I ended up selling it for a pretty good amount of money. Or even Deja [Entendu]. I have an original pressing of that, because I bought it when it came out. I paid what it cost when it came out. I didn’t pay some exorbitant price on the internet. I just liked the record and bought it. It’s funny that that record is worth money now. It’s funny how that stuff happens.
Even though I just mentioned selling a record, I very rarely sell records. I have a list up on Dead Format. I get hit up for trades a lot, and I’ve traded some stuff. I don’t trade a ton, because there’s not a lot of stuff that people have that I want. Or usually they’re trying to get a bargain themselves, and I’d rather hold onto it.
MV: That makes sense.
SR: I say this as an “old guy,” and I feel out of touch saying this, but I feel like the vibe of trading has gone away a little bit [with] eBay and Discogs. It’s sort of ruined the value of trading, and I think it also has ruined the valuation of records. People use Discogs as a base for pricing or for like…if they’re going to do a trade, they get a feel for the value. Discogs is really arbitrary. eBay, at least, is sort of based in demand pricing, but Discogs…I could put a record up and say it’s a $400 record and if nobody ever buys it, the only price it’s ever listed for is $400 and the next person who comes along [sees that] and says “Oh, it’s a $400 record.” Just because someone’s trying to sell it for $400 doesn’t mean it’s a $400 record.
MV: It’s interesting to see everything fluctuate, especially when it gives you the median, minimum and maximum value of your collection. Some days it can be like “Is this a college payment?” or “Is this the price of a used car?”
SR: Totally, yeah. Even recently, I was looking up a CD for a work thing, and I was looking it up on Amazon. Somebody was selling a copy of this out-of-print CD for $150, even though it’s not hard to find. It’s one of those things where you can put a price on anything, and say it’s worth anything. Somebody may or may not choose to spend that kind of money. When I first got into collecting as an actual thing, and doing lots of trading, it felt like people were a lot more reasonable. When I get hit up for trades these days, people are very unreasonable. They don’t want to give anything up, or they think that a record that came out this year is as valuable as one that’s 20 years old. It’s hard for me to see apples to apples on that.
MV: Let’s talk favorites now! What are some of the crown jewels in your collection, and what do you associate with them?
SR: My big quest in collecting has been getting a complete collection of The Smiths’ discography. I’ve worked pretty hard to gather a lot of those records. At this point, I’m basically missing a few 45s. The joke in High Fidelity that I live by is the original U.K. pressings, not the U.S. pressings. It’s hilarious that that’s such a cliche. I have a lot of that stuff; I have a lot of those records. They’re not super valuable or super hard-to-find, but 7”s are a little more difficult to find. The 12”s, not so much. A lot of the 12”s made it to the States; not a lot of the 45s made it to the States, so they’re hard to find over here. Especially with the resurgence of popularity with The Smiths.
When I was in England this past year, every shop I went to said, “If we have one, we sell it in a day.” The 45s are pretty hard-to-find worldwide. Having that stuff…I love it. I love the aesthetic of those. The meticulousness of which they assembled those layouts, and just having physical copies. You can look at pictures of them. There’s some really great websites that have documented pictures of the entire layouts of those records. But having them in your hand, holding them, those are records that if I get them, I’m like, “Oh man this is awesome to just have this Smiths 12”.” I really love that stuff. I mentioned that test lacquer is pretty cool. A lot of the test presses that I have I really love.
I’m a huge The National fan, and I recently bought…well, I’m one of the nerds that bought the A Lot of Sorrow box set. It’s, I think, 10 LPs (Editor’s note: it’s nine) of them playing the same song over and over again, 99 times. I also went and watched that movie of them playing it for six hours at the Hirshhorn in D.C. I sat in there by myself for six hours and watched that. It’s an interesting cross-section where it’s art meets music. His name is Ragnar [Kjartansson] and I can’t say his last name because I’ll butcher it. They did that as part of this art installation with this Icelandic artist, who just had an incredible retrospective at the Hirshhorn. It’s one of those things where it’s this idea of music crossing with art in a really interesting way. That box set reminded me a lot of Robert Rauschenberg working with Talking Heads to do cover art for them; a box set for them. He did an elaborate deluxe version of one of their records that he did a lot of the artwork for. I think that just checks some boxes for me. I went to school for graphic design and minored in art history. When visual art and music cross, that’s a really interesting intersection for me. That box set echoes that Rauschenberg-Talking Heads collaboration, visually, but it hints at it in a collaborative effort too: the visual representation of a record.
That’s why I think people care about vinyl more than just listening to something digitally. That’s the biggest criticism that people can level at digital music. The detachment of a physical object. Especially the aesthetic of that physical object. As somebody who cares a lot about design, I think that’s important. I think you can do that in Spotify; having an album cover that looks cool, but there’s something really interesting [about the physical thing]. That box set is very well-crafted, and thoughtful in the way it was presented. That’s one thing I really like that I have.
I love the idea of a singles series. There was a series that came out that I subscribed to when it was originally happening, called Post Marked Stamp series. Half the records in it are by bands that nobody really cares about anymore, but the other half are really incredible records. All of them are really incredible records. One of them was a Braid/Get Up Kids split, which has arguably the best song by each of those bands on it. Again, it was one of those records in the late ‘90s-early 2000s that was really valuable and sold for a lot of money. I have the subscriber box. It’s this cool cardboard box they all fit in. They’re all handmade covers and stuff. Those were really interesting and cool. You can find them a lot cheaper now, just because a lot of those bands aren’t super well-known anymore. I’ve seen that box used for reasonable prices. It’s not like an incredibly valuable record or anything, but it’s just something that I subscribed to and got one-by-one as they came out through the mail. I really just think they’re awesome. I love the subscriber series. There’s a new one; Polyvinyl is doing a four-track one. They’ve done one for a couple of years, and I just subscribed for the first time. The lineup this year’s really great, and I just got my first one and the box for it. I love thinking in that broader sense of subscription series. A lot of them are really poorly executed, so you have a “buyer beware” kind of thing. But when done right, they’re really cool.
MV: Let’s shift focus here from your record collection to 6131 Records. Before we started this interview, you mentioned that you aren’t the actual founder of the label, but despite that, you could probably give some background as to how it got its start.
SR: 6131 sort of happened by chance. The original group of owners were a group of roommates. They all lived in a house together. Some of them were working at Revelation, some of them had worked at Rev in the past. I think when they started the label, Joey had previously worked at Revelation, but wasn’t currently working there. It was this group of guys who lived together, who had bands stay with them all the time, and the band Sinking Ships was staying with them. They were friends with them, and they had mentioned that the label they were on was not repressing a collection CD of early stuff, like a demo EP. They said the guys should start a label, and put it out. They utilized their resources and understanding of that through having worked at Revelation, and Joey having worked at another label. Basically, that’s how the label got its start. Their friends wanted them to do something, and they did.
The name of the label, six-one-three-one, not 61-31, was the address of the house. That’s how the name came. That’s how it started: roommates as a hobby, doing a label. That continued for the first dozen or so releases. As it became less of a hobby and more of a label, some of those people were too busy to be involved or lost interest. I don’t really know, since I wasn’t around and can’t speak to that. The two guys that started it with Joey are still around. They’re still friendly with the label; they’re still good friends of ours. They just aren’t involved in the label anymore. I want to say the label started in 2006. June of 2006, but I could be wrong.
I got involved around 2010. The label had been around for about four years and hadn’t put out a ton [of releases], but they put out the first Cruel Hand LP and the first Touché Amoré LP. Right before I got involved, the label put out the first Joyce Manor LP. The second release was a Blacklisted live 7”. In that first batch of stuff, it was clear the guys had a good ear for cool stuff. They worked with a lot of bands that went on to become really successful. They did Bad Seed; a deep cut that a lot of people really love. It’s basically Title Fight’s hardcore band and people love it. People really love it. Those shirts are eBay gold. I was in Target the other day and saw a woman wearing a Bad Seed longsleeve. I was like “Hell yeah!” Every time I wear my Bad Seed longsleeve, people will try to buy it off me. Nine times out of ten when I wear it, somebody will try to buy it off me.
They put out a lot of great records, and that’s all before my time. It became more real, and that was sort of when I got involved. It was the transition point. Bringing me on was an effort to transition from just strictly being a hobby, to more of a deliberate and focused label, and as much of a dirty word as this is, professional in what we did. At this point, having been involved for as long as I have, it feels as much mine as anybody else’s. I’m definitely not one of the originators though.
MV: What are some of the most rewarding things about working with the label?
SR: The absolutely most rewarding part is finding artists; finding bands that are relatively unknown, or moderately known, but not in a wider sense. Getting involved and helping that grow. The most prominent, recent example is Julien Baker. There’s a lot of artists that to varying degrees of success have gone on to really great things. Being involved in that…there’s a freedom in being able to say: “I care about this. I like this and more people should know about it.” Our mantra is first and foremost, it needs to be good music. If we don’t believe in it, or want to listen to it ourselves, then how can we expect anybody else to care?
There’s a lot of labels who put music first. There are also a lot of labels who don’t. They chase trends, or want to be motivated by what’ll sell. That’s just never really been our thing. Obviously, we want to sell records, because that’s how we stay in business, but it’s not the core of how we make decisions. To me, that’s the rewarding part. Being patrons of artists.
I think that in the sense of being a music lover, and a fan of music, I think that it’s nice to be able to add to that. There’s a community and there’s a culture there. Being sort of involved in that, and not just being a spectator, is really rewarding. I think it’s also part of the punk ethos. There’s a million songs about doing something with it. One of my all-time favorite records is Set Your Goals by CIV. The song “Do Something” speaks to that. It says don’t just be a sideline participant. Make a zine, be in a band, work for a blog. It’s a participatory sport. That’s not to discourage people from being fans! If you show up to a show, you’re participating. Even buying and collecting records is a form of participation.
MV: Why Richmond of all places? It seems like an interesting area to have a label located that has such a broad presence in the world.
SR: To be fair, the label started in Huntington Beach, California. I moved to Richmond about 13 years ago. I was living in Florida. I went to college in Florida. I grew up down there and went to high school there as well. In hindsight, there were lots of things about Florida that I really loved. It just didn’t have enough cultural things going on to satiate my interests. The other big problem with Florida is that it’s really isolated. A lot of times, bands don’t come there on tour because it’s hot, [and] because it’s really far to travel. Where I grew up, you could drive six hours or more, maybe even eight and you’d be in Atlanta. That was the next closest city. And Atlanta’s pretty far from a lot of places. There isn’t a lot. It’s far to get to places. The cities are far apart. With the exception of Tampa and Orlando, there’s just not two cities that are close together…As far as other cultural stuff, there’s not a lot of. I heard somebody make a joke about Florida the other day. They were like, “What’s the difference between Florida and yogurt? Yogurt has culture.” That’s a little bit harsh, but it is true.
I ended up in Richmond because I was working with a band that was from here. I had visited it, and really loved it. I love the south. I genuinely love the south. Obviously, there’s a lot of negativity about that, but I just like that even in a city the size of Richmond, if you walk past somebody on the sidewalk, you say “hi” to them, or acknowledge them. You don’t just ignore them. It’s really interesting when I go to New York, because I go there pretty frequently. It’s interesting to be in a place like that where that’s just such a taboo [thing]. You do not engage with people on the subway, the sidewalk. People think you’re a crazy person if you do that. I just try not to do that when I’m in those places. I have to turn it off because it’s such a cultural thing here. I like that about the south.
The other thing about Richmond is that I call it “The Last Bastion of the South.” I think it’s the furthest north you can get, be in a city, at least on the East Coast, [and] be in a truly Southern city. You can get to D.C. really easily. You can get to Philly or New York or even Boston really easily. It’s great. It’s sort of the last city heading south in that line of cities. It’s the last city on 95 before Jacksonville. There’s this huge gap through the Carolinas and through a little bit of Georgia. There’s no major cities right on 95. It’s uniquely positioned to be the best of both worlds. It’s got that east coast/old world colonial leftover cultural relevance, but also southern.
Richmond right now is having a lot of interesting happenings. Every time I travel somewhere, people always say, “Richmond is a cool place right now!” It seems like that with Lucy [Dacus], and artists like Matthew E. White and Natalie Prass calling Richmond “home,” as well as the whole Spacebomb [Studios] thing that Matt runs. There’s a ton of bands. A ton of stuff. Lamb Of God is from here. GWAR is from here. Down To Nothing is from here. You just have a lot of really interesting music across a lot of genres that call Richmond home. The No BS! Brass Band is a local favorite. One of their members was in Bon Iver for awhile. There’s a really great community of people here, making really interesting, innovative music that across genres, is reputable and trailblazing. Lamb Of God is arguably the biggest metal band in the U.S. GWAR has their own niche of being this kitschy thing. Obviously Matthew and Natalie are killing it. It’s just really interesting to see all that stuff happen, and to see people moving here. You have a lot of people who are choosing to come to Richmond to be a part of that. It’s really cool. I kind of moved here a little bit on a lark; I just liked it and wanted to be here. Fortunately, as I’ve been here, in the time I’ve been here, it’s really grown. It’s really become this kind of hub of cool music stuff going on.
As I was involved with the label, the label had a lot of operations still in California. Joey started moving around, mostly because of his wife’s professional stuff. He moved to San Diego from L.A. Lived there for a little while and now lives in Boston. It just made sense to centralize our operation. With me being a little more grounded, and having more roots put down here than he had, it worked. We gradually moved a lot of the operation here, and now more than anywhere, Richmond is 6131’s home. But that’s a transplant. It didn’t originate here, and there’s always ties. The first LP they ever put out was for a Richmond band. There’s always been a connection. Before I even got involved there was a band called Swamp Thing; a hardcore band from here on the label. There’s always been an interconnectivity between what 6131 is doing, and what Richmond was about. It sort of followed naturally.
It’s great, and I think we’re really proud; at least I’m really proud that the label calls Richmond home now because of that. It’s cool to see how we can all work together in a community. It’s a smaller pond. You can be engaged and involved and know a lot more people in the community, because it is so easy to engage with, as opposed to if you lived in some place like New York where it’s a lot to sort of engage with. You can do it, but it just takes a lot more. It can be less organic, I think, than the community you can develop in a place like Richmond. I love that. And I love that the cost of living here is so low! It’s also easy to get to places. New York is six hours on a train. It’s super easy. It’s definitely not as expensive to live here as it is in New York, or even D.C. Maybe D.C. is more expensive than New York at this point (laughs).
MV: We’ve been talking about this a little, but where do you see the future of the industry headed, between the resurgence of vinyl, and I guess tapes now, as well as streaming services and the current state of the world?
SR: It’s really interesting. It’ll be interesting to see what politically happens. Obviously I am liberal-leaning, as a lot of people in our world are. I think we try to be pretty careful about what we talk about politically with the label. I think that we are doing the benefit today with the ACLU and Bandcamp, with the donations. We did a series of shirts that gave money to five organizations: the ACLU, RAINN, Trevor Project, Southern Poverty Law Center and Planned Parenthood. I don’t want to get into political discourse, but I think it’ll be interesting. From a label perspective, beyond sort of cultural implications, that being sort of the foremost concern, I think secondary or tenth concerns on this list of this administration is, “What’s that going to mean for imports and exports?” Thinking about that as a business. We sell records overseas. We ship records overseas a lot. We manufacture records overseas. How’s that going to be impacted by the protectionist economic policy? I don’t know that that’s going to necessarily have an impact on us, a real impact, but from a label perspective, that’s a tangible thing. In the grand scheme of things, I care a lot more about LGBTQ+ rights; I care much more about women having equal pay and equal rights and access to the healthcare they need; and immigration policy. That stuff matters significantly more than if we can import records. If I’m thinking practically, that is something that’s on my mind.
The streaming thing really gets a bad rap. The benefit of streaming services is really misunderstood, I think. A lot of times, you can look at artists like Julien. Julien had a lot of interest from Spotify pretty early on. She got a lot of support from them early on. Honestly, they played a big part in really helping to broaden the people who knew about her and became fans of what she does. In a way, with limited resources…we know our place in the world. We’re a decent-sized label; not the biggest label. They were able to help supplement what we were doing and take it to a broader audience. That’s true with a lot of stuff.
A lot of labels that are playing the game by engaging with the Apple Musics and Spotifys of the world are really seeing a lot of positive results from that. The thing about streaming is that people want to talk about the payouts and how they’re really low. That is true. I do think that it’s a long-term approach as opposed to a short-term approach. With iTunes, the traditional digital downloads, you would get a download of something that you pay once, and it’s yours forever. The model of streaming encourages things that have replay power. The reason that Julien’s been so successful on there is because people want to listen over and over again. The reason Touché Amoré is popular on there is because people want to listen over and over again. They’re making records. We still sell a lot of To The Beat of a Dead Horse. That record’s been out for almost 10 years; eight years at this point? The fact that it still sells well after eight years speaks to the quality of what they made.
I think that’s where the streaming thing really has to be thought of. If you’re making music that has that lasting power, you’re going to keep making money over a long period of time. That’s where the scale tips, and it becomes beneficial on the streaming side. Obviously that requires the streaming thing to exist that long, but that’s the mindset of the long-term approach. That’s harder for labels because you’re putting money up, you’re doing all this stuff, and it’s harder to sort of finance this stuff knowing that your payout isn’t as immediate. I do think that as a supplement to the way people consume music, it’s really great. I think that if people only consume music through a streaming service and aren’t engaging in some way, that’s problematic. It’s hard to be sustainable unless it is something that really succeeds in a broad way. I think that people going to shows, buying records, buying whatever is really important.
I think with the tape thing, this is again, an armchair analysis, but I think it’s because people are getting their parents’ cars that have tape players. You have this sort of “hand-me-down” of cars that a whole generation of people are right square in the middle of. People who consume the kind of music that we put out and a lot of labels in our world put out have tape players in their cars, because they’re using these cars that still have them. I don’t have a tape player in my car, so it’s funny. I don’t have a way to listen to tapes. I don’t personally have any way to consume the music that would be on a tape. It’s funny because I always ask people who buy tapes, “Where are you listening to this?” They almost always say “in their car.” I know Urban Outfitters sells tape Walkmans or whatever now. I just don’t know that there’s a lot of people sitting with headphones on a Walkman listening to tapes. A lot of it is people in cars. That’s an interesting phenomenon, because we’re seeing a resurgence in it; the popularity of it. People have used cars. That’s a weird correlation, but I do think that is the case, and it’s interesting.
As far as vinyl? You ask one person and they’ll say it’s continuing to grow. You ask others, and they say it’s dying. It’s inevitable that it will probably ebb and flow the way it always has. I don’t know that until there’s another sort of…someone somewhere along the lines is going to figure out something else. If I knew what that was, I would be very wealthy! Until that happens, it is the most enticing way to engage with a release in a physical way. The aesthetic of it is still the best. People make colored tapes; people make all kinds of weird CD packaging. There’s just something about records that is enduring and people love.
Obviously, people talk about sound quality, but most people who buy records are probably listening…well, they’re not listening on super crazy hi-fi systems. They’re listening on a Crosley. Which is great! People want to disparage those things, but listen to it on a Crosley. Who cares? If that’s how you want to listen, that’s fine. If you’re listening to it on a $75 turntable, it’s not about quality of audio. The quality of audio is generally going to be better on something like Spotify, or buying MP3s off of Bandcamp; even buying the FLAC files off of Bandcamp if you’re an audiophile nerd. I do think it’s really interesting that people want to interact with the aesthetic of it; the physical product. I think it’ll endure. I think the biggest detriment to vinyl is that you see things like Record Store Day or vinyl manufacturing in general, which have really been co-opted by major labels reissuing records that don’t need to be reissued. I’m somebody who has lined up for Record Store Day. I’ve bought a ton of Record Store Day stuff in the past. I think that the idea behind what Record Store Day was, was really great, but I think it’s lost its way a little bit? It has become an excuse for majors to clog up the pressing plants with reissues of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Reissues that do not need to exist. I think that is sort of the detriment. That’s hurt stores, because stores feel obliged to get that stuff in because it’s a huge thing for them. In doing so, they can’t afford to also take a risk on a record or something that is maybe going to sit on the shelf a little longer. That’s not helping the cause. Also it creates delays for pressing. Every time Capitol decides they want to repress The Beatles records, we all cringe a little bit because we’ve got to wait an extra month to get our physical product in.
I think it’ll endure. There’s obviously long been people who care about it, and want to be a part of it, as a community. As long as that maintains, people will still be excited about it.
We’d like to thank Sean for taking the time out to sit and chat with us. He’s not much of a picture person, so he’s happily provided us with a photo of the time that he went bowling in the White House. If you’re interested in any of 6131’s releases, you can check out their webstore here (or here if you’re in the U.K.), which also features a wonderful distro section, pins and clothing.